I have fond memories of a time when I enjoyed clothes shopping. I was living in Dublin about five minutes when I realised that my boot-cut jeans and New Rock boots were the modern-day equivalent of a potato sack smeared in animal faeces, so I set about re-branding myself as some sort of semi-stylish flâneur.
This was the time pre-children, halcyon days when an FCUK T-shirt was deemed both stylish and risqué, when I was footloose and fancy free and able to spend money on myself without opening a yawning chasm of guilt and self-loathing beneath my acupuncture-brand trainers. Although frankly, looking back on the sort of outlandish garbage I wore, falling into a ravine was really the most fitting punishment.
Still, I yearn for a time when I could indulge in that level of selfish narcissism, but all things must pass, and soon my bird of paradise-style Topman plumage and fiscal promiscuity landed me a life partner, and my time for caring about how I looked was at an end.
That said, even after two decades and four kids, I still dabble in the odd bit of vanity, but as I am now old and tired, it's usually via one of those pick-and-mix hauls from Sports Direct where half the stuff kinda fits and the other half gets put to one side in case I get either fitter or fatter (most likely the latter).
But after much prompting by my wife about how little I care now about my appearance compared to the feckless dandy she fell in love with, I decided that we would celebrate the easing of lockdown restrictions by trekking to the city. By 'we', I do not mean my wife and I. I've come to realise that she still sees the me that used to be, as opposed to the depressed middle-aged drone I have become. Our trips to the shops usually involve a lot of 'you get away with it, you're still young' while I try to pour myself into what appear to be denim tights in a dressing room populated by people a quarter of my age.
But it is my daughter who offers the most brutally honest assessment of my attempts at style - 'are those jeggings?'; 'that shirt is too long and it makes you look like a Shetland pony'; 'did they not have that in your size?', and so on. She is the anti-Gok Wan. So she came with me instead.
There's a scene in the film Crazy, Stupid, Love where Ryan Gosling's slick lothario takes Steve Carell's recently-separated dad on a shopping trip to try and rid him of his Velcro wallet, New Balance trainers and utilitarian dad shirts by telling him to 'be better than The GAP'. I aspire to be as good as The GAP. It offers a perfect blend of safe, functional clothing - nothing too outlandish, nothing too eye-catching, just the kind of look that would suit a background character in The Truman Show or perhaps a cult member trying to look less crazy whilst on a door-to-door membership drive.
But do you know what stylish accessory I didn't wear on my trip? A mask. I can give you a million excuses why I didn't, but the truth is, I thought I might look foolish, which, given all of the above, all of the terrible fashion choices I have made down the years, seems like an even stupider decision.
A potentially life-saving bit of cloth over the mouth and nose is somehow a worse look than a pair of €150 trainers with an obscene teddy bear carved on the sole. Vanity is a curse. For the first hour, shops were relatively quiet, and it was easy to avoid other humans. But as the morning ticked over towards lunchtime, the crowds built up, and few were wearing masks.
And I, being thick, brought my immunocompromised child into this space. What if she got sick? What if she died? It would be on me. There is nobody else I could blame. So we left town early, realising that there is a sizeable difference between feeling odd for being in the minority of mask-wearing citizens, and knowing you did everything you could to protect your family and society as a whole.
And for my fellow GAP acolytes, it brings me great pleasure to inform you that you can buy face masks in a range of safe-yet-stylish designs on the GAP website.
Health & Living